My personal experience of entering screenwriting competitions has been, for the most part, a positive one. However, I have lately become concerned about the constant bombardment of marketing and sales pitches that seem to arrive through my inbox in a deluge once I have entered or even signed up for more information on the competition in question. My reaction to this? Delete and unsubscribe!
In 2010, I wrote an article on screenwriting competitions for the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild, which you can read here: http://script.ie/writing/interviews/dont-put-all-your-shelf-puppies-in-one-basket/. It was also published online by Film Ireland: http://filmireland.net/tag/caroline-farrell/
While I stand by that article and would encourage any newbie screenwriter looking to develop a profile, get a sense of the strength of their writing skills, as well as showcasing their talent, to consider entering some of the better competitions that are currently out there, I do stress that you must do your homework before parting with your hard-earned cash.
Before you enter though, make sure that your script has developed enough to be up there with the best of them. The most effective way to get a sense of what is working and what isn’t is to give your script to trusted colleagues and writer friends for some honest, and sometimes tough, feedback. And always be prepared to return the favour! If you don’t yet know other writers, join a group, sign up for training courses such as those offered by Filmbase: http://www.filmbase.ie/training/index.php and Screentraining Ireland: http://www.screentrainingireland.ie/ or go to the many fundraising and film events that happen regularly about town, where you can network with like-minded people.
And do the research! Simply entering each competition that comes your way is a waste of time and money. Figure out what you wish to gain by entering, and what the outcome could be: Is the competition part of a bigger festival, where winners and finalists can go along to pitch and network? Will the script be read by industry professionals? Is there a cash prize? Will there be an opportunity to gain representation from an agent or manager? How much is the entry fee? Are notes provided at no extra cost if you are placed in the finals? And keep in mind, some screenwriting comps appear to be glorified script consultation companies, and while that may help some of you to further develop your storytelling and script formatting skills, always do your homework and be discerning in your choices…and finally, it may take a while to achieve that initial breakthrough…so keep at it and good luck!